Saturday, October 20, 2018

Patch Me Up

It was all about the patches.

Once you got to be a Camp Fire Girl, you got a vest, and then you could start accumulating these cool patches. I don't know what they were for, because I never got that far. They could've been for anything. Conservation. Service. Congeniality. Typing. Showing up. Marshmallow cuisine. Patch-sewing. Patriarchy-fighting. I don't know.

You had to be a Blue Bird before you could be a Camp Fire Girl, so I was. That got me an outfit, thus enlarging my school wardrobe by 50%, because I got to wear it to school one day a week. We had meetings. We had officers. I was Secretary. All I knew was Secretary was a thing I could be, because Mom had been one before I got invented. I was hoping it was a ceremonial title, but they made me take minutes and stuff.

Summer after fourth grade, we got to go to Camp Mawavi. I was plenty excited. Mom and Dad saw me off when we filed into school buses. I was in line with all my friends and when we got to the front of the line they asked us our ages, and all my friends said Nine and went in one bus, and I said Eight and they sent me to a different bus, like Auschwitz. It was horrible. I squeaked and pointed but I had no experience arguing with an adult, and quickly ran out of options. The buses pulled into camp and my friends went one direction and I never saw them again, and I went with the Little Kids in the Little Cabins, where they checked on us at night by shining flashlights in the window and telling us it was the fairies. The next day they doubled down on the fairy story to point out the fairy dust shining in the dirt, but my older sister was a rockhound and I knew it was mica flakes, and said so. It didn't go over well.

This is how far I would go into the ocean.
I was miserable. We made lanyards out of gimp and potholders out of little loops. The worst was they kept trying to teach me to swim. All week I pretended I had a cold so they wouldn't make me put my head underwater, but at the end we were supposed to demonstrate our ability to put our heads underwater by navigating an obstacle course in the lake. We were supposed to duck under the big floaty thing and come up the other side, and I must have looked mighty wretched, which is how you look when you're only eight and contemplating your own death, because I remember the adult waiting and waiting and finally lifting up the floaty thing so I could go under it with my nose out of the water, and I passed. She must have realized she'd be stuck with my sorry fake-sneezy ass all summer if she didn't.

After that my friends all Flew Up, right there at camp. That's what it was called when you shed your Blue Bird wings and become a Camp Fire Girl and got the patches. If there's anything I hated more than putting my head underwater, it was flowing up. Also, they eliminated our school so we all had to go to a different school for fifth grade. And guess the hell what? All my friends went to Tuckahoe and I went to Taylor Elementary and didn't know anybody. That had to do with our house being in the Nearly Negro section of the county. We were red-lined out of a lot of things, including, not coincidentally, the public swimming pool. I went from being the most popular girl in Mrs. Rejuney's fourth-grade class to being a real nobody with still only two outfits and no friends, and I got an attack of bashful that lasted for years. Never really quite pulled out of it until I got me a little social currency in the form of real titties. Once the dress code was abolished and you could wear hippie jeans and a hippie work shirt to school and still be cool, my remaining obstacles had been lifted.

All of which is to note that I never got to earn patches for a vest. But now I have a hat. A Metro Volunteer Hat, earned for being a frog egg counter for the regional gummint, and I have five Birdathon pins to stick on it too. Shiny ones. Also, I can put my head underwater. I'd rather not, but I can.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

G.I. Joe vs. The Dead Huns

I just got my first Big Girl pneumonia shot. Evidently I have reached the magic age at which it is assumed I can't afford a full-price movie ticket, and I'm likely to keel over in the presence of a microbe. I do tip over easily.

I woke up the next day feeling a little off, though. For instance, I got up at the usual time and took a dump but instead of getting dressed I went back to bed, just because. Long about mid-morning it occurred to me to take my temperature, and sure enough, it was up to 99.9. Right in the dreaded stinkhole! No, I took it orally. My shoulder was sore where I'd gotten the shot, too.

So, awesome. I have a case of miniature shoulder pneumonia. My bicep is hard at work fending off disabled microbes and frankly, I couldn't be prouder. It's like the Attack Of The Dead Huns! This would be a practice run. Somebody has dumped off a shipment of Dead Huns and all my personal warriors have run out to stab them with daggers just to get the feel of it so they're not squeamish when the real thing arrives.

This is the sort of scenario you cook up when you're running a fever and need to feel okay with it. You want to feel ready for the Huns.

So because there was laundry to hang out and dishes to put away, I spent the morning looking up the Huns. Huns are supposed to be fierce, like pneumonia. Turns out one of the first peoples the Huns attacked were the Alans.  The Alans. How hard could it be to beat up the Alans? Clearly, I needed a different visualization.

So. My shoulder is full of highly excited plasma cells. The little girl plasma cells are off somewhere trying to read and the little boy plasma cells are in my shoulder with a set of G.I. Joe antibodies, lining them up and going pew pew pew at the invading dead pneumonia microbes and getting all steeped in the culture of violence so that some day when they grow up they can go to war for real, and the girl plasma cells can get some reading done. Everybody's yelling at them to keep it down in there, but that shoulder is going to be sore until they run out of G.I. Joes.

By the next day my fever is back to normal. The plasma cells have been instructed to put away their toy soldiers and register for Selective Service, and peace has returned to the body.

What a wonderful thing is the vaccine. Most of us remember that the first one was developed by an 18th-century physician who'd heard that milkmaids didn't come down with smallpox, possibly because they'd been exposed to cowpox, but it's not true. For one thing, it was probably horsepox all along. Also, the Chinese had him beat by 800 years. They did it old-school. They scraped smallpox scabs off of dead people and ground them into powder and made people snort it.

I don't want to hear anyone complaining about modern vaccines again. Roll up your sleeves and your kids' sleeves. We'll come up with a cure for imaginary autism later.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

It Is My Dooty To Report

Reader and Friend Of Pootie Nisa Blackmon recently corrected me about a misapprehension I had concerning how sea urchins take a dump. If this is not the only blog you'll read today that starts out like that, I hope it's the first.

As she explained, they don't really take a dump, at least not in the gravity-assisted way we have grown accustomed to. Their anus is on the top of their body. That seems like really poor design but we have to remember they're underwater for the event, and presumably their effluent leaves the immediate area. Up until now I had not considered that the ocean is basically a giant toilet. This cements my determination to avoid it, especially as it is not airworthy, and I do not have gills.

Well. Under the circumstances it only makes sense to put the anus on top. Those circumstances being that the urchin's mouth is on the bottom end, where it can hoover algae and such from various surfaces, and in general animals are designed to poop as far away from their mouths as possible. Flip yourself upside down to mow algae on the sea floor with your lips and you will note that your anus is on top, too.

Urchins have five-fold symmetry, which is unusual in the animal kingdom. You'd think that if they were doubling up, however many times, they'd come out even. But they start out bilateral like us, and then the left side only gets busy and divides, and the right side stays put to be the oddball. We end up with a basically spherical animal, like Chris Christie.

It's hard to argue with success. That anus arrangement has been going on for a long time. And individual urchins apparently keep growing, however slowly, until something eats them, such as a Japanese person. They can get to be a hundred years old, or even 200, with few signs of aging, which is understandable in a critter that starts out with sprouty hairs and dribbles poop on itself. What more could it do, keep the turn signal on? Scientists have learned a lot about their longevity by measuring the Carbon-14 in their little round suits, thoughtfully deposited during the nuclear bomb testing of the 1950s. They really don't know how old an urchin can get, although science is intrigued by the discovery of a massive urchin with what is thought to be catapult dents.

I just had a little fun at the sea urchins' expense, so let me correct the record to note that even old urchins do not dribble poop on themselves, but eject it forcefully. (Related sea stars have anal cones for the same purpose so as to distance themselves from their personal magma.) They probably do have to get up to go several times a night, though.

Aristotle, who had the benefit of being a curious fellow in a time when nobody knew anything, studied almost everything, including urchins, and he referred to the purpose of the anus as providing "issue of the residuum." I plan to work this into my vocabulary as soon as possible.

So there's a mouth and an anus and lots of tubes inside for organizing stuff once it's in there, but what about sex? It's a little disappointing. Female urchins expel eggs that float freely in the water, and male urchins produce milt that can fertilize any eggs it encounters. This method is scientifically known as "jacking off," or, if it keeps up for a long time, "on and onanism."

It doesn't seem like much of a plan, but urchins have been around for 450 million years. That's a pretty good run for something that has an asshole at the top. Take heart, America.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Rags To Bitches Story

So I found out, and never mind how, there's no reason to get into it on a Sunday, that my fine young friend buys reusable cotton flannel menstrual pads, which I didn't even know were a thing, but they are. And I was grateful yet again for being a post-menopausal liberal.

Because if I were a liberal woman still in the throes of unasked-for fertility, I would then have to go purchase these myself, and use them and wash them out in order to keep yet another single-use throwaway item out of the landfill, because that is the curse of a liberal, to worry about such things, and because it's not as if the throwaway kind ever saved much on laundry anyway, since there wasn't a single month in forty years in which I did not manage to doody on something I shouldn't have, even if I wore two corks and a pad so large it has a tag on it that says DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.

If I were a pre-menopausal conservative I wouldn't have to give this a second thought. I would be worried about some colored person breaking into my house or being blown up by a Muslim war refugee or raped by a Mexican or the fact that God is both all-powerful and somehow kept out of the schools or that some liberal is going to force me to use curly light bulbs or some stinking Socialist is going to steal my Medicare or someone is going to call me a racist just for having the guts to call a spade a spade or, and this is the very worst thing, my own husband might some day be accused of something he didn't do, something that totally never happened on account of there being no witnesses except that one really drunk dude who hasn't remembered anything he's done in thirty years. Any woman could accuse him of such a thing at any time and then go cash her check from the First National Bank Of Libtards and it wouldn't matter how many creative explanations my husband made up to explain the naughty bits in his yearbook. And his life would be ruined unless he makes it to the Supreme Court and is right back on top. As it were.

As a conservative woman I would be able to assume that life began when I was born, and being able to wear sweaters inside in the summer and drive my Ford Extortion to the corner store and throw away a plastic pod every time I make coffee is just what the world owes me. Certainly I would assert there was no life before pads and tampons. Just because women survived for a million years without them until a hundred years ago does not mean that we could survive without them today.

They did, though. Admittedly, history has not been overly interested in the concerns of women. Hypatia is an exception. That 5th-century mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher once discouraged an unwanted suitor by smacking him with her menstrual rags, although some scholars dispute this account, pointing out that she could have just waved them around and he'd have dropped dead of his own accord. Unfortunately, Hypatia was a woman of great and beguiling beauty, otherwise known as Satanic wiles. She and her big brain and beauty got into a nest of early Christians and that was pretty much that, for soon enough she was murdered, sliced up, dragged in pieces through the street, and burned.

And for this alone I might have donned the cotton rag in Hypatia's name. But now I don't have to, thank God. Or whoever's in charge.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Prom Night In Alaska

It was like being a chaperone at the junior prom.

K.C. and Scott let us get our breath after Denali, served us some delicious chunks off her 286-pound halibut (what the hell, Alaska?), and then walked us a mile or so into the woods near their house. Where, instead of terminating at what would have been a perfectly acceptable mushroom or salamander, we stood on the banks of a wide, graveled, braided river and watched sockeye salmon churn upriver in ardent anticipation. Thousands. Thousands of cherry-colored fish on their way to a very important date.

Cherry-colored. Why? They start out blue and white like any sensible ocean-going fish, but then, as the urge strikes, they turn bright red and their heads turn green and the males get long in the nose and develop a hump; make of that what you will. Why green heads? Because nothing goes better with red. It is possible there is a more involved explanation than that but beauty has its purpose.

The involved explanations would also have you believe that redness indicates fitness and salmon choose each other on that basis, as though they're conducting a job interview, but what else is beauty? You might as well say they choose the beauty. After all, we do too. Sockeye salmon, like other salmon, get the pigments in their flesh from what they eat, primarily nice pink krill and the like. That's also why tomatoes, and your better flamingos, aren't white. Carotenoids. You spend a few years in the ocean eating what nature intended and you're going to look really appealing on the plate, not that that's much of an evolutionary driver.

So when things feel just right, and hormones start acting up, and you're a sockeye, you turn red and green and humpy. Trust me, there is nothing weird you can't blame on hormones. You turn red because those terrific pigments you hoisted from your dinner start to move toward the skin under your scales, and your scales are transparent.

I've wondered about the nature of the salmon's motivation to spawn before. Sure, we fling around phrases like "biological imperative" and we know that whatever scoots them along gets rewarded in progeny. But still. It's not like anyone sticks anything in anyone else. Or even, really, touches. It's hard to imagine the draw. Until you remember new love.

And no one has much of an explanation for that. Someone catches your notice and sparks your flesh, and there's a quake within you, and you are drawn inexorably to that person, pulled right across the room to that person, and nothing is more important than closing the physical gap between you, and who can reason that out? Is there any point in trying? You are in such thrall you will offer up the secrets of your heart. You will vibrate the silky web. You will show your reddest meat.

The biggest, reddest males have the most success at this business, and get to swim next to their beloved and shoot sperm over her dropped eggs, but sometimes the lesser males get a squirt in too, later, after everyone's gone. Just like at the prom.

We're standing by the punchbowl watching the feints and fumbles and surges and urges. Love and beauty, that's what we're watching.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

I Pledge Allegiance To The Swag

Sometimes you have to hear things a few times before they sink in.

For instance, in a thread questioning why a woman would put herself through the threats, humiliation and abuse that Dr. Blasey-Ford did if she were not sincere--a question I had taken to be rhetorical--I was startled to read the following comment:

"It's their 15 minutes of fame. Paid for, I'm sure by the Left. Otherwise, why come out now. They've been ashamed to go public until now, why not keep quiet?"

I dismissed that right away. Until the very next day, when Judge Kavanaugh loudly clarified:

"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump...revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."

And suddenly, I saw the light. And I was deeply ashamed.

Yes, I am remiss in my contributions to The Left, and here it is Pledge Week already. It's time to step up and pay my dues on behalf of the Clintons. That child-sex ring isn't going to run itself.

That's right, Bob, a lot of our listeners probably don't even know how much goes into running a successful left-wing operation. For instance, sure, we can see the up-front costs associated with a pedophilia ring, such as salaries and travel expenses, but what about behind the scenes? What about the rent for the pizza place, or what about the sacrificial goats for the Satanic ritual abuse? What about the murders and coverups? They don't come cheap.

So true, Starchild, and let's not forget The Clintons themselves. As you know, they come as a set, but that's expensive to maintain; especially since Bill has been dead for years, and we've had to re-stock and train a cadre of doubles, all ready to deploy like Lassie, and that costs money, even though they've gotten so much skinnier.

Yes, Bob, and so to all of you listening today, let's chip in and together we can continue to make progress! We still have babies to kill and guns to confiscate. Every little bit helps, and whatever amount is right for you is right for us. Join today at the $20 level and we'll thank you with a hemp tote bag with our logo, the silhouette of a family of fleeing Mexicans! You'll know you're doing your part to contribute to the surge of immigrant gang members and rapists that we need to broaden our base.

True enough, Starchild. Don't forget, each tote bag can hold up to thirty pounds of fair-trade coffee and heirloom tomatoes, but, Starch, what if our listeners don't want to tote their own tomatoes?

Well, Bob, if they join our Karl Marx Society, with a monthly contribution of $1000, we'd love to send them a pair of actual Mexicans! Not only can they tote like nobody's business, but each one comes with a certificate of proof of voter's registration and his, her, or their own food stamps.

That's awesome, Starchild! how about our crisis actors, though? Do we have enough in the pipeline?

Never too many, Bob. And it is surprisingly expensive to get some goon to go on national TV and pretend his little girl was gunned down at school. Early on, you could get one for beer money, but there's been a shortage since the Trump rallies have drained off the supply. And who could have predicted we'd still be seeing Trump rallies two years into his administration?

Not I, that's for sure. But I know what our listeners are thinking: there's not that much money in working for non-profits--can't someone else carry the load? Well, Starchild, we really have only the one billionaire, so it's up to each of us to step up to the plate, tee up that puck, and get us over the goal line. And what better place to start than with our basic $35 membership, for which we'll be happy to send you a travel mug? Each mug is emblazoned with an American flag, which you can disrespect in the privacy of your own home.

But what if our listeners don't do any traveling, Bob? So many of us are trying to limit our use of fossil fuels.

Well, Starchild, the travel mug is still great for that volunteer stint at the soup kitchen, and it fits in a bicycle water bottle cage. You don't actually have to be going anywhere.

And thanks for reminding me, Bob, to tell our listeners to be sure to enter before the end of our pledge drive Saturday to win a trip for two to nowhere at all! This year we're excited to announce we're also throwing in a dinner with Merrick Garland. He's not going anywhere either!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Possible World

So the road into Denali does not climb Denali, or protrude into Denali, or scatter humans all over Denali. It's a 92-mile narrow dusty ribbon that does its best to not ruin the place. We're the intruders here, but the road instructs us well back, peasants attending royalty.

Dawn is sly on the shoulders of the mountains and then spills color into the valleys. Not just color: all the colors. Every color you ever needed. The whole box.

The big mountain itself is the tallest, from base to summit, in the world. Alaska is relatively new, as land masses go. Most of it is formed from whatever gets scraped off the Pacific plate as it dives under North America. Bits of this and that are jammed together and crumple up along their edges, nowhere more enthusiastically than in the Alaska Range. And that's still rising.

Wildlife? Sure. The Dall sheep showed up clearly, but far away, against a dun mountainside. Grizzly bears revealed themselves to good binoculars and loped effortlessly over enough acreage to make it clear that binocular distance is best. Moose tramped by, observed by a grizzly. Wolves eluded us, but wolf territory sprawled for miles in the braided-river valleys, and the possibility of wolf turns out to be so nearly the same thing as the reality of wolf that I was hardly bereft.

And then, there, unmistakable, was my caribou, way off in the distance. Not the caribou I had anticipated; I've seen the pictures, and so I know caribou are supposed to arrange themselves in long picturesque strings on the tundra against a snowy backdrop. The one in front is supposed to fling his antlers back in a splendid yet saucy posture, with the rest trailing behind in admiration.

This was just the one guy, but he was the one in front. I've seen ungulates before. Lots. Deers and elks and mooses and goats and antelopes and sheeps and what have you. But this one took the ungulation cake. If you can maintain that much majesty on nothing but lichens and tundra scuzz, you've got nothing left to prove. If I'd seen a whole string of them I might never have come to, and that's a fact.

Toward dusk we and several dozen of our closest relatives happened on a much more intimate scene, when a moose grunted irritably across the road, with two admirers in tentative pursuit. Adolescents they were, their antlers the moose equivalent of a boy's first mustache, and now and then they scraped their heads at each other half-heartedly, wondering if they were doing it right. A chesty man nearby boomed out that he'd seen a massive bull moose hanging out in the woods and that he'd probably come out soon, because--cue the nasty, knowing chuckle--"he isn't about to let her get away." Suddenly I longed for a more distant sighting, with no narration, and maybe--what the hell--one bull moose partisan choking on his Budweiser.

Sightings are nice. But it's the realm of possibility that floats the heart: wolf and caribou and bear and moose and marmot and pika possibility. It's the gratitude and humility that comes with a glimpse of how the world was and how it should be, a world in which we are clever, vulnerable, insignificant creatures of the margins. And beyond any individual miracle of an animal that might cross our path, it is the vastness and the perfection and the beauty of their rightful home that I want to gather with my eyes and decant into my soul, to sip from for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018



A while back, our friends and treasures K.C. and Scott got the word that they'd won the Denali road lottery, which meant they could drive their personal vehicle into Denali Park for one day, after the regular shuttle-bus season ended. And they thought we might like to join them.

This sort of thing takes some (but not all) of the sting out of them pulling up stakes thirty years ago and leaving us behind. Their stint as our neighbors was doomed to end eventually anyway, unless they could figure out a way to shovel half an arkful of critters into a 40x50 foot lot in Portland. And even then they'd have had to buy up the rest of the houses on their side of the street to accomplish the trout pond and the sturgeon pond and the emu pen and the wine grapes. Scott had a bulldozer (yes, in his back yard) and no doubt was already scheming such a thing, but instead they left for the country, sheltered the hell out of an astonishing array of animals--most of them not destined for the plate--while holding down full-time jobs, and then sold the whole shootin' match and moved to Alaska with a mere dog and a mere cat.

This is what you do when you are thus inclined and the opportunity arises: you leave your menagerie behind and go to a state where the menagerie takes care of itself, and you try to get a respectful peek at it as often as you respectfully can.

Denali! Well sure we would come. Alaska is practically right next door. To Canada, anyway. We hopped into a plane and met them in Fairbanks, where they'd just come in from a polar bear excursion, as one does, and off we went.

Denali was once Mt. McKinley and is now Denali again, although Trump has threatened to re-McKinley it, because Obama, so stay tuned. The big mountain, which had been around a long time before anybody called it anything, had been Denali until a gold prospector in 1896 decided to piss off some silver prospectors by calling it McKinley after the president who championed the gold standard. By 1917 the federal government officially renamed the mountain McKinley, as a consolation prize for his having been assassinated. McKinley was, irrelevantly, from Ohio, and so in recent years the Ohio delegation blocked attempts to snatch back the Denali name, but a few years ago Obama made it happen anyway, because he is an elitist who hates Ohioans.

All of which makes Denali even sexier than it had been.

I did not have an image in my head of the trip into Denali. I rather thought it might wind around and around and terminate fairly high up the mountain, which is what we do with mountain roads in these parts, and because the thing is over 20,000 feet high, I worried a little that we'd be parked on the road all woozy and unable to get out of the way of rampaging caribou, should the need arise. But then again it would have been worth it to see the caribou, which would be a Life Mammal for me. There was the possibility of spotting much wildlife, including several that would also be new to me, such as the wolf and the Dall sheep.

We got an early start and motored to the park entrance in the dark, and right away a few Life Ptarmigans were spotted, apparently, but I don't like to count skitterings on the shoulder that I have to take someone else's word for. Still, it was auspicious, and we pulled up to the entrance and waited for the go-ahead from the rangers, and then the road purled out ahead of us for miles, all prospect and promise, like the beginning of a long, good friendship.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

God's Pants: Change Is Coming


"Did you splat?" I asked Dave, as we sat on the front porch behind a wisteria veil, pulling in the last of the day, our beers kindled by the setting sun.

"No." Splat. Splat splat splat. "Did you splat?"

No. We were forced to stand up and investigate, and there, at our front walk, splatting was confirmed to be happening, all over the place, great fat fatty splats of water right out of the sky, like God's trousers were leaking nickels. They spanked dust puffs out of the garden soil; they astonished the pavement.

Serious, world-class, double-wide, fattycake raindrops in the setting sun can cheer a body up like nobody's business. "There's got to be a tremendous rainbow," I said. "To the tower!"

Because the tower is closer to the sky.

This would be the same tower we hied to when our neighbor Gayle saw us out in the yard a few years ago and hollered out her back door "You all better get inside! There's a huge storm coming! They said on the radio everybody needs to get inside!"

And so we got inside and went instantly to the tower where we could, indeed, see a huge and energetic storm rolling our way, all pink and gray and whippy and momentous, and with very little hesitation we decided to get even closer to it by climbing out the window and crawling out onto the roof, where Gayle spotted us and commenced hollering again. What she meant was get in the house, not on the house. What she meant was get to the basement and crawl under a workbench in the duck-and-cover position and quiver and get ourselves right with the Lord, until the all-clear signal was given. We stayed on the roof. It was grand.

This time we settled for staying inside, since it was in fact already raining, with the setting sun slicing underneath, and sure enough there was a tremendous rainbow, a real humdinger, the kind of sturdy rainbow that dives straight into the ground in the vicinity of a pot of gold. Like, right over there.

But we know better than to go looking for a pot of gold. It's like chasing sandhill cranes. Sandhill cranes come hootling out of the sky and drift to the ground with a tilt and a bounce on their clackety stilts and then they stand around gorgeously in a herd. And so you sidle toward them all stealthy like you're chasing wabbits, and without them moving a gangly leg bone they melt away from you at the same rate you're approaching them. You never get closer to a herd of sandhill cranes. They like to keep their beauty for each other.

So. Pot of gold, the exact same way. It's all right. If I did find a pot of gold I'd just trade it in for more rain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I Hear That Train A-Comin'

My personal physical plant had been popping along like a Swiss watch for a long time, and then, the other night, just before dawn, I awoke to a Disturbance In The Force. I returned to sleep with the expectation that whatever it was would have resolved by morning. But by the time I got up, nothing had changed. There was still a Disturbance In The Force. In fact, I could pinpoint its location.

A key element was missing from my morning ablutions.

An hour later, even after coffee, it was still missing.

By noon, I wouldn't have been surprised if a porcupine crawled out of my butt trailing a string of horse chestnuts. Relieved, yes, but not surprised. But it was not to be.

I must pause in this report out of a sense of delicacy. This might surprise you. I am well enough known for my regard for the subject of digestive output that complete strangers have sent me photos and articles about poop. But here's the thing. I may monitor it, and report on it, and crow about spectacular individual achievements, and Dave and I may maintain a lexicon of descriptors that we use regularly, as it were, but the actual performance of my daily opus is very private. I don't want you there. I don't even want Dave there, and fortunately, Dave doesn't want Dave there either, or he'd totally be there, trying to get a rise out of me. For all my interest and curiosity, my Key Element is deeply personal.

Yes, I am the one waiting you out in the next stall over, hoping you'll flush so I can blast out a boomer.

And so I return to the matter at hand, bleakly but obliquely.


The train arrives at the station every morning, right on time. Everyone is on the platform, cheering and waving handkerchiefs. The engine pulls up with its cars, two, three, occasionally more, all in a measured pace, a triumph of civilization.

Until the day it doesn't. On the platform, we peer into the distance and check our watches. There is mumbling. The phone in the stationmaster's office rings once, and the rumors begin. There has been an incident. A derailment possibly; one or more cars are on fire. There's smoke in the distance. It's still as death, and getting warmer, with not a breeze to be found. We wait on the platform, trading a word here and there at first, and then trailing off, and one by one we curl up on the benches, silent with dread.

A day passes. Passengers from the tragic event begin to lurch toward us on foot, lugging their sorry suitcases, one by one, or in small groups, damp and dispirited. Then a few more. We begin to sit up on the benches, craning into the distance, scanning for survivors. Another day passes. Reunions occur in spotty bunches on the platform and, relieved, the crowd thins. Is everyone accounted for?

The tracks have been cleared. We who remain put an ear to the empty rails and hear the distant rumble of an approaching train. The wind kicks up. It's coming at last.

You probably heard all about it. It was all over the papers.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Multi-Level Marmoting

I love those fun little internet games. Like when you take your first pet's name and the street you grew up on, and it's your stripper name. I'm Duffy Buchanan--kind of a working man's stripper, I think. Good thing we didn't have a daughter in 1990. She'd have had to work the pole as Larry Twenty-Ninth.

Got a new one for you: take your first name, your favorite vegetable, and your favorite mammal, and you've got your Internet Huckster name. Wouldn't you buy something from Murr Yam Marmot? No? How about David Avocado Wolfe?

He's doing quite well, thank you, peddling horseshit plus marketing to willing marks. He says chemtrails are real. He hawks apricot pits for tumors because of a compound in them that might fight cancer if it didn't dump cyanide in your system first. He claims academic credentials that don't exist. He's a raw-food proponent but first came on my radar as a promoter of anti-vaccine memes. Because that's what we need now.

Gotta state up front, I come from a rah-rah vaccine family. I was swept into the doctor's office a few seconds after the Salk vaccine came out; I was two, so I don't remember it, but it wouldn't surprise me if Dad camped outside the building to be first in line. I do remember the later sugar-cube vaccine and the time I asked "What is polio?" and my sister Margaret burst into tears of joy because I didn't know. Polio ruined her health from age six on and she finally died of it ten years ago. Polio was eradicated in the United States by 1979. It's possible it will be eradicated worldwide soon.

Want to freak out some kid crying over an injection? Show 'em your smallpox vaccination scar. That's a doozy. If you're younger than 45 you don't have one. We spanked that disease, we did. My smallpox scar looks a lot like the scar from a huge chicken pox blister on my ankle. I didn't feel sick with chicken pox, just itchy, and I went to camp with it and promptly infected the whole place. Did worse with measles, second time around: I still sometimes get the nightmare I had when my fever was up around two thousand. I don't remember the mumps. I was a month old.

Well, anyway, the first time I saw an anti-vax meme I didn't trust it. Poor spelling, of course, and oh my! Photos of pathetically sick children! Babies hooked up to tubes! Were these children adversely affected by vaccines? Snopes smacked that down in seconds. Turns out it's pretty easy to come up with pictures of sick children.

I like my science the old-fashioned way. Design studies to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Crunch epidemiological data. Publish in peer-reviewed journals where your results can be challenged or replicated by other educated people in your field.

But Science can't be trusted, you see. Big Pharma wants babies to be vaccinated against everything because they're raking in the bucks. Ah, no. In fact vaccines do keep people from getting nice and sick, and they are dramatically less profitable to Big Pharma than other drugs. One reason is the good old government buys most of it and has negotiated the price way down. (It could do that for almost any drug or procedure if we didn't have a health care system run by insurance companies, but that's another story.)

Yes, precisely because scientists have long since discredited the supposed link between vaccination and autism, this proves science cannot be trusted. You can take David Avocado "Mushrooms Come From Outer Space" Wolfe's claims to the bank, but feel free to ignore the scientists, who are clearly just out for money. And while you're visiting his site, go ahead and shell out $297 for the Zapper, which "delivers positive and negative offset square wave electromagnetic waveforms throughout the body."

We can't get enough of conspiracy theories. They make our brains light up. In conspiracy-world, a study linking vaccines to autism is not withdrawn because it was fraudulent, but because it was repressed. It's good to be skeptical. But don't forget to apply your skepticism to the memes you're helping go viral, too. Because critical thinking is the only vaccine for that virus.

By the way, Donald Trump is also an out and proud anti-vaxxer, too, but that doesn't mean the position has no merit. Wait a minute, it pretty much does.

And there's this, too. There are a lot of reasons people might create an anti-vax meme and promote it. They might have something to sell. But they might be Russian trolls, too. Not only are they apparently active in trying to undermine public health here, but they are interested in creating as much confusion and division in our population as possible--about anything. And even more, they are interested in stoking distrust in our institutions, especially government and the press and science. The less confidence we have in those, the more easily we can be controlled.

Doctors don't care about your baby. Global warming is a hoax. Taxes are theft. All politicians are the same, so why bother voting?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Xeric-Sum Game

You can tell the fellow gardeners. They don't admire the garden generally. They're specific.

Hi! You've got some great structure going on here.

Thanks! You should've seen it in May. Leaves and everything.

What's that thing over there?

There? You mean the dead stuff?

No. The deadish stuff.

The tall deadish stuff just behind the dead stuff?

No, I mean the scrubby deadish stuff just between the tall deadish stuff and the stuff that isn't dead yet.

Oh yeah! That stuff's great. I mean, the nearly dead stuff is a real champ too. I think it might still have a taproot that's hit a pocket of gardener's tears and it's really hanging on.

You know, I had something a little like it, but I watered it in April, and again in late June, and damned if it wasn't squawking for more as soon as August rolled around. Total princess. I don't need that kind of pressure.

Right? I really like the ones like the Bleeding Hearts that bloom in the spring and then die back completely. You can go all the way to the next spring thinking they're still alive. Hey, do you know about this one? It's my new crush. It looks dead right out of the nursery! A real time-saver.

I got one last year! They're cool. Just going to let you know, though, that when it really does die, there's nothing more pathetic-looking on the planet.

Oh rats. I had high hopes.

That's a nice big healthy green thing over there. Pokeweed?

Yup. I'm going to have to hit it with Roundup, I think.

The little maples are nice.

Thanks! They don't need much water at all. In fact the more you water them, the faster the verticillium wilt spreads. I've lost about a third of the limbs on this one and I'm pretty sure the coral-bark is next. It's seeding like crazy. They tend to do that when they know their number is up.

Yeah. Good for the birds, though. You should see them on my dead cascara! I've never had so many woodpeckers.

Aw! I wish I had a big dead tree. None of my dead trees ever got big enough to interest the woodpeckers. Oh, by the way, I totally recommend this little guy here. Sumbitch rises from the ashes every year like clockwork. I'm getting it to where it doesn't lose its leaves until early July, and then it goes out flaming. It'd be gorgeous against the blue salvias if I could get it to hold out that long.

You can't go wrong with the salvias. I'm all over them. My sister in California has one the size of a Volkswagen just blooming its fool head off. Dry, dry, dry! Sucker dies outright if you even sprinkle it. I'm not kidding. Shrivels up like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Ha. That's nothing. I had a hosta plumb blow up the other day. There was a puff of smoke and slug snarge rained down for hours.

That's nothing! I had one native snowberry next to a bed of verbenas and it up and murdered the whole family.

We lean on the wall for a few moments, absently crinkling leaves into powder.

"Don't forget to vote," we said in unison.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Quit Following Me, I'm Not Going Anywhere

My computer worries about me a little. So every now and then it will pop up and say "The website you are trying to infiltrate may contain third-party pansy pox. Do you want to continue anyway?" And I guess I say "Sure, why not" enough times that now it only offers bulletins sporadically.

Didn't have a thing to say, for instance, about the thing you click on to find out what your Medieval Warlord name is, which is obviously super cool and which you can get just by typing in your mother's maiden name, your first pet, and the last eight digits of your Social Security number. (It was dumb, though. I had to put in every pet I ever had plus my anniversary before it came up with something Nordic. All hail Canute the Credulous!)

I don't really go online much. Not much more than five or ten hours a day all told, and a lot of those hours I would probably have wasted digging for earwax. So I don't know all the stuff that's out there. I am comfortable enough with Facebook. Facebook is where all the baby boomers went to find out if the guy in high school was still really cute, and then stuck around when he wasn't, because it was sort of reassuring. Also, it's a place to go if you like to see complete sentences. But the rest of the social media thingies are a mystery. I did get a Twitter account because evidently nobody will read your books if you don't have a bunch of people following your every chirp, but it was incomprehensibly boring and I ignore it. I'm trying to pretend I never joined LinkedIn because I have no interest in finding a job. I don't know what Snapchat and Instagram are and have no curiosity about them at all.

But then my computer started with new warnings. Not popup ones, either--actual emails someone took the time to write, just for me. At first the emails suggested I might be interested in something called Quora. Then it kept coming up with names of friends of mine who like Quora, and started wheedling. Wouldn't I like to join them? Not really. It's probably some social medium where you can share smeary photos of the left-most portion of your dinner, fork-side, with ironic captions containing only the initial letters of a sentence, not to exceed twelve characters.

So I ignored all these obvious attempts to grab my attention. My attention deficits are working in my favor these days.

Still came the increasingly earnest messages about the desirability of Quora, and then they started in with the warnings. "Sally Spankmeister followed you on Quora," they said. "Frank Fuddleton followed you on Quora," they said. Day after day.

But I've never been anywhere near Quora. I don't even have the passport. And note the past tense. These people are not following me on Quora: there's no opportunity to whip around and catch them at it. No. They followed me. They stalked me. Without my knowledge. Or is being on Quora like being on methadone? Maybe I have to go to Quora with a big stick and start peeking behind the hedges. But I know what would happen then:

"Welcome to Quora. Gotcha!"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Liberals Are Coming! The Liberals Are Coming!

In a meeting with evangelical leaders, Mr. Trump said that if the GOP loses, "they will overturn everything that we've done and they'll do it quickly and violently, and violently. There's violence." He liberally means us liberals. And that scares me a lot. I don't even like to skoosh a bug. But I guess I'm going to have to get up to speed in a hurry.

It's weird, because it's exactly what we thought would happen if Trump didn't win his election: his followers would shoot us all in our beds, and we wouldn't be able to do anything about it except come up with universal health care.

We do have a few antifa folks with rocks in their pockets but they scare us too, because every time they show up, there's a bunch of Nazis around. Sending them up against the pistol-packin' patriot boys with their flag suits and Kevlar is like making a little barefoot Palestinian kid square off against the Israeli Army.

We got nothing. We could throw tomatoes and eggplants, but that would be wasteful. And we're not going to scare anybody with a well-arugulated militia.

Besides, if we have to get violent to run these assholes out of town, then we're going to have to get organized, and that's not our best thing. First we're going to have to find our old plowshares and beat them into swords. And that's not easy. Maybe it would have been at one time, but we aren't plowing anymore, because what with the destruction of the soil structure and the scarcity of water it's more sustainable to plant cover crops and layer compost. Almost all the remaining plowshares have been welded into garden art.

And then if we did round up those plowshares, we'd have to find someone to beat them into swords, and other than a few random hippie blacksmiths in period costume and a drum circle, we're short on talent.

We can't even manage a fertilizer bomb. Not with the run-off and the toxic algae blooms.

Sure, we get upset, but the basic problem is we're peacemakers at heart, and it's an uphill battle. I mean, we're dealing with the kind of people who did all they could to keep the black man from rising, but then when he takes a knee, that wasn't right either, so it's not like we're going to make them happy. They'll get pissed off over anything. The prospect of having to share a country with colored people gets them going in a way that the mere destruction of the planet or billionaires stealing them blind simply doesn't. Massive flooding, hurricanes, drought, extinction? Kid stuff compared with being forced to bake a cake for queers.

There we'll be, chanting at the standoff, facing assault rifles, and until they start making bullet-proof poster board we won't even be able to protect ourselves.

Liberals violent? We can get snarky, but now that there's a marijuana glut you can get three-dollar bud at the dispensary. Our biggest gripe is finding snack food that isn't made by Nestle.

But don't be fooled. You don't want to get us really angry. We won't hold back. We'll go after your grammar and spelling every time. We've been stockpiling your extraneous apostrophes and we're going to pack them all into one giant nail-bomb of a polemic and it's going to sting, babies, it's going to sting. You might have to look up some stuff, but it's going to sting.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

To Arms!

I'm not proud of this.

Several times a night, I wake up and can't figure out what to do with my arms. This is in spite of the fact that they have been part of my basic equipment for as long as I can remember. I have gone to sleep something like 23,000 times and it's still an issue. Anyone would think I could have worked it out by now, but I haven't.

I will wake up on my side with one arm crunched under me and my fist under my pillow, and the other fist crunched up under my chin. I am a giant mantis. One or both hands might feel achy or strained. I stretch out the topmost arm to get the kinks out and unfurl it along the mattress, but then it's insufficient as a buttress and I start to slump.

So I roll over onto my stomach, my preferred sleeping position, and elaborately re-punch my pillow so as to support my forehead while excavating a breathing pocket. Arms meet over my head, under the pillow. This is a delicate adjustment and I can spend several minutes getting it right. I am trying to avoid the situation where I dream about being underwater too long and finally jolt awake gasping because my face is solidly pressed into the mattress. So far, I am old enough to jolt awake and move, and not so old that I can't, but that time's coming.

My mother, I believe, put me face down to sleep when I was an infant. People get all worked up about that sort of thing now, but this was during the post-war baby boom and there wasn't such a big fuss about keeping any one baby alive. Evidently I was resourceful enough or round enough to survive and I have been a stomach-sleeper since forever, which was in 1953.

But it's a pity, because the only way to sleep without your arms getting in the way is to sleep on your back, which I can't seem to do.

Arms are important, of course, but mainly it's the wiggly bits at the ends that seal the deal on most transactions, drawing, or jar-opening, or the like, and the arms just get you a bit of reach (no offense to Thalidomide-Americans). The rest of the time they dangle from your shoulders and swing weirdly. Imagine how befuddled your standard gazelle would be, bounding across the plain, and watching our front legs flopping around like that.

Your arms aren't really supposed to be doing anything when you're asleep, and if they are, nobody wants to hear about it. But for most of us there are not a lot of options for how they're hooked up to the anatomy. Your shoulders aren't necessarily where you want them while you're sleeping but they're not deflatable.

Nothing like this is a problem for my cat Tater, who occasionally sleeps right next to me. For a fifteen-pound mammal, she can really pin down a blanket. I've never seen her look at all uncomfortable. I don't know exactly what is inside her fuzzy packaging, but I do know it is well past al dente.

For me, though, it gets fussy. I can get one arm all unrolled and spread out and I move it an inch up or an inch down until the humors feel unrestricted again, but by that time I need to find the cool spot. If nothing gets worked out in a hurry there's a danger I will wake up enough to imagine solutions, such as arms that retract like hoses when you're not using them, or a pit drilled into the mattress to accommodate a face rest with a drool bucket underneath, or a suspended shoulder-hammock made of butterfly wings, and if I think about it long enough to realize these solutions don't really make sense, then I'm really really awake, and vulnerable to remembering who's President.

Wish Mom had put me on my back.